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On the road to Vancouver 2018

We’d been visiting Seattle for few days and stayed just twenty five minutes outside the city center in Lynnwood at the Best Western Alderwood. Not only was it cheaper but we wanted to have a shorter drive to the US Canada border and not deal with the Seattle city traffic. We loaded up the rental early in the morning and headed to Vancouver. From Lynwood, it was about an hour and a half drive to the border and another thirty minutes or so to cross. We chose the Peace Arch crossing which is the third busiest but offers a more direct route to Vancouver. Peak times are 3- 4 pm. Crossing times on other routes may be quicker but they take you thirty to forty miles east of Vancouver and that’s not where we wanted to be. This link can help you choose the crossing that’s right for you.

Peace Arch Monument.

The wait at the border didn’t seem that long, pretty straight forward with the usual questions, “where are you going, where are you staying, how long?” Now we’re on our way, no hassles and it’s about fifty minutes to Vancouver center. Our hotel is again outside the city to the north which is a great jumping off point for all the outdoor activities in the Capilano and Grouse mountain area.

Before checking in to our hotel, we spent all day exploring the city. First stop was Gastown, a trendy neighborhood with lots of boutiques, restaurants, bars, souvenir shops and art galleries. It’s home to the famous steam clock that shoots out steam sounds of the Westminster chime on the hour and quarter hour.

Cruise terminal.
Vancouver port and Railway lines.

Visit to Chinatown.

We took a stroll through the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese gardens. Established in 1986, this place offers a quiet break from the hustle and bustle of the city. As we wound down our day, we drove to Stanley Park which has amazing views of the city skyline.

Stanley Park sits on the edge of town and is almost entirely surrounded by water. It’s a free park so you can stroll, hike or bike around. You can drive through as well but if you’re going to spend a significant amount of time, there are fees for parking. In the high season (Apr – Sept) it’s $13.40 and $7.20 in the winter (Oct – Mar) There are miles of hiking and biking trails including the five and a half mile sea wall which overlooks English Bay. On the opposite side of the park, the Burrard Inlet offers views of the Lion’s Gate Bridge, West Vancouver, Grouse mountain and the surrounding area.

Map of Stanley Park.
West Vancouver in the shadow of Grouse mountain.
Canada goose.
Girl in a wet suit sculpture.
The Lion’s Gate bridge crosses over to North Vancouver where we’ll spend the night.
Leaving Stanley Park via the Lion’s Gate Bridge.

After a long and exciting first day, we checked into our hotel. Depending on the type of vacation we’re taking, we like to book hotels that have some kind of kitchenette where we can prepare some meals. It’s a great cost savings which allows us to pay for more attractions and other things. Once settled, we took a short walk to the Capilano Market which was a few blocks from our hotel. We stocked up on some foodstuffs, snacks and enough water to fill our insulated water bottles from Camelbak (“affiliate link”) The following day was going to be a busy one with all the activities we had planned. A good night’s sleep was very welcome.

Park entrance.

Day 2 and we’re out the door after a quick in room breakfast. First stop was the Capilano suspension bridge park, about a five minute drive from our hotel. If you’re staying downtown, you can ride the free shuttle bus from Canada Place with your ticket purchase but it’s first come first serve. The cost seems expensive CAD $54.95 adult and $49.95 for seniors (65+) but there’s a lot to do there. The park is much more than the bridge. We did the cliff walk, tree top trail, boardwalk, hiked some of the shorter trails, and checked out raptor education center. We were lucky enough to spot some bald eagles soaring through the tree tops. After our visit, we grabbed a quick bite and finished up with some very refreshing locally made ice cream. We were pleasantly surprised at how many dining options there were at the park.

Trudy is not a fan of suspension bridges, but how do get to the other side? The bridge is roughly four hundred and sixty feet long (140m) and two hundred and thirty feet (70m) above the river. As you can see by the video below, she made it and has a certificate to prove it. Bring on the next challenge.

Tree top trail.
The boardwalk.

After leaving Capilano, we headed to Grouse mountain which was just a few miles away. If you’re doing both attractions, it’s cheaper to buy a combo ticket which includes the sky tram ride up the mountain. This is a major skiing area but in summer there are lots of other attractions here as well. You can ride the chair lift to the top of the mountain and explore further. There’s also zip lining, lumber jack shows, theater and restaurants. There was still some snow on the mountain but it was nice and sunny and a light jacket was all that was needed. We checked out the grizzly bear habitat and did some short hikes. After lunch, Trudy booked a helicopter tour which was quite the surprise. I’d never done one before so this was a welcomed idea and a great way to finish up our day on the mountain.

On day 3, the plan was to take a day trip to Vancouver island. After a day in the wilds of North Vancouver, and a good night’s sleep, we loaded up the car and drove the fifty minutes to Tsawwassen. The ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, Vancouver island takes about 90 minutes. If you’re spending more than a few days on the island, it’s better to take your car but you have to get there early, the line can be pretty long as there are commuters who take the trip every day plus all the commercial vehicles. We parked our car nearby at a secured lot and took the free five minute shuttle ride to the terminal. They offered pickup service as well as long as you were back by 9:00 pm. The walk up cost per person for the ferry is about CAD $17.00 and for car and driver CAD $75.00 The crossing is very scenic and picturesque as you sail between the Gulf islands. At the right time of year, you may see pods of killer whales.

Once we arrived in Swartz Bay and exited the terminal, we took a short walk to catch the #81 bus to the world famous Butchart Gardens. The ride is a little less than an hour and the fare was CAD $ 2.50 Taxis can take you there in half the time but cost up to $ 45.00. The cost to enter the gardens was $30.00 and to fully appreciate this fifty five acre wonder, you really need to set aside about three to four hours.

Taking the local bus to Butchart Gardens.

Butchart Gardens is a truly amazing place and we spent several hours there. There are themed gardens which include the Sunken garden in what was once a quarry, Japanese, Italian and rose gardens. I’m told that there are about seventy gardeners who are responsible for the daily upkeep and new plantings as the floral displays change according to the season.

This area of the Sunken garden used to be a quarry.
Entrance to the Japanese Garden.
The Dining room Restaurant is available for an elegant lunch. They also serve afternoon tea.

After spending several hours in the gardens, we boarded a local bus for our trip to Victoria. There’s a bus stop three minutes walk away where you take the # 75 bus for the fifty minute trip to downtown. It was Mothers’ Day weekend so we had a booking for afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress. We had just enough time to walk around the beautiful waterfront area checking out the assortment of ferries, water taxis and whale watching boats. Tea at the Fairmont is a very formal affair so we cleaned ourselves up the best we could and made our way over to the hotel. Dating back to 1908, this is one of the oldest hotels in British Columbia and has a national historic site designation. Although the experience was quite expensive, we thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s just one of those once in a lifetime things we don’t mind indulging in.

The Fairmont Empress Hotel.

After a very satisfying tea experience, we walked the grounds of the Parliament Buildings and relaxed on the great lawn. As it turns out, May is a great time to visit Vancouver, the weather was sunny and not a drop of rain the entire time. It may also have been a little warmer than usual.

Parliament Building, Legislative Assembly of British Columbia
Ministry of Social Development Building.
Sign marking the 150th anniversary of Canada

Vancouver island is one of those places that we would love to explore more. We barely scratched the surface of the things to do there. Next time, we’re staying on the island instead of the mainland. I wished we had more time but we wanted to make the 7:00 pm ferry. We saw enough that we know we want to return. The evening was a bit cool as we sailed back to Tsawwassen but the sun setting behind the islands was breathtaking.

On the ferry back to the mainland.

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The Journey Begins

Getting ready for flight over Vancouver City from Grouse mountain.

Isn’t it better to look back on your life and say “Boy, I can’t believe I did that than to lament “I wish I’d done that”?

We met about six years ago online and realized we shared a similar passion for traveling and exploring. I’m originally from Speightstown Barbados and Trudy is from Helmbrechts, Germany. We’re married and now living in Round Rock Texas, USA. Between us, we’ve been to over fifty countries.

Welcome to our travel blog, designed to cater to older travelers like ourselves. We’re Trudy and Andy (Trandy) and our aim is to give insight through our own adventures to travelers, especially to those who might be venturing out for the first time, or haven’t traveled extensively. We will share with you ideas on affordable hotel rates, where to find upscale or cheap eats, some not to be missed attractions including some off the beaten path, ideas on how to stay safe, basically some do’s and don’ts especially when traveling abroad.

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Birthday trip to Niagara Falls, Canada 2016.

For my wife Trudy’s birthday, we decided to visit Niagara Falls. We wanted to stay on the Canadian side as there were more choices of accommodations and besides we got one more addition to our countries visited list. We flew from Austin Bergstrom to Buffalo via Charlotte, North Carolina. Getting to Niagara is pretty easy. There are shuttle buses available, $65.00 to the Canadian side or $50.00 to the USA side. Taxis are another option, the fare is about the same. We rented a car and it took about forty five minutes to get there. As you get closer to the Falls, you could see the spray of water rising like a cloud in the distance. Border crossing was a breeze, just have your travel documents ready. The get the latest updates and requirements on border crossings, you can visit http://www.cbp.gov

Border crossing.

There are quite a few hotels along the rim of the Falls especially on the Canadian side. Our hotel of choice was the Marriott. We’ve stayed with them several times and have always had great service. We asked for and got upgraded to a very nice room on the twenty fourth floor which offered us magnificent views of both the Canadian and American Falls. A welcome gift basket for the birthday was also a very nice touch.

Marriott Hotel.
View from our upgraded 24th floor room.

We’re only here for a few days and want to make the most of it. We made reservations for birthday dinner at the Skylon Tower which has a rotating restaurant. Food was excellent, lots of selections on the buffet, but it’s all about the view here. As night fell, we were treated to a fireworks display.

View from the Skylon Tower, Rainbow Bridge, American Falls and Horseshoe Falls.
As night falls on the Tower, great ambience and oh so romantic.

On our second day, we booked a “Journey behind the Falls” tour. We rode the funicular down from the hotel to meet our guide. We descended about a hundred feet by elevator through the rock table where you go through a series of tunnels. There are a couple of lookout portals where you see the water and really hear and feel the power. Afterwards, we made our way out to the observation area, (rain gear on) for the incredible up close view.

The funicular costs about $3.00 one way.
You can purchase tickets for a myriad of things at the welcome center.
Lookout portal behind and under the falls.
Out on the observation deck.

Check out the VIDEO below.

We had a full day of activities planned so we strapped on the backpack from Matein (“affiliate link”) which has USB connectivity and paired it with our new charger from PowerBank (“affiliate link”), (great for charging your devices when you’re out all day.) We walked cross the Rainbow Bridge to the USA to check out the American Falls. After a quick immigration and passport check, we continued on. The Canadian side is much nicer than the American side, more lodging, amenities and fun things to do. The American falls however affords you the opportunity to get really close as we discovered later towards the end of our trip.

International boundary line.
Rainbow Bridge, Canada to the left, USA to the right.
Observation deck from below.
Observation deck.

Niagara is more than just the Falls. The area of town closest to the Falls has quite a few attractions, gift shops, casino, restaurants and bars and all within walking distance from our hotel. There’s also an amusement park which is great for families with kids. The old Niagara city on the American side has seen better days when there were lots of hotels and casinos but is now a mere shell of it’s former self.

You can zip line along the Falls but it was a little expensive, ($50.00 for about a one minute ride.)

There are plenty of attractions for families with kids.

Niagara at night.

Skylon Tower.
The Falls are illuminated at night.
Downtown Niagara.

The days are going by so fast, we’ve had a blast. Looking at the water every day, the sound and the power were just hypnotic. I’ve dreamed of coming to this place for a long time and it didn’t disappoint. So glad I was able to share it with Trudy. Today is check out day from our hotel so having experienced a taste of the American side, we decided to explore it a bit more. We drove across the border this time and headed to Niagara Falls State Park which is the oldest state park in the US.

Sunrise over the Falls.
American Falls up close.

The condition of Niagara Falls state park was a far cry from what we saw on the Canadian side. It looked a bit run down but there seemed to be some renovations going on which was encouraging for the future. Canada on the other hand was very clean, lots of flowers and well kept gardens.

Relax and enjoy the splendor of Queen Victoria Park with its beautifully manicured flower gardens. Established in 1885, this park is the centerpiece the Niagara recreational area.

American Falls with Horseshoe Falls (Canada) in the background.
Pathways to viewing platforms.

There are boat tours that take you up close to the Falls. The “Maid of the Mist” operates from the American side and costs US$ 22.25 for adults, kids six to twelve years $13.00, elevator ride included. The Canadian Hornblower boats are CAD$ 30.50, kids five to twelve, $20.50, this includes the funicular ride down to the dock.

Canadian Hornblower, red rain coats, US Maid of the Mist in blue.
American Falls with observation deck in the background.
View from Niagara state park.

Niagara Falls was always seen as the quintessential honeymoon destination but it’s much more than that. There’s a lot more to do than you realize and the city of Toronto is not too far away which makes for a nice side trip, time permitting. Now this is just our opinion, but if you do take a trip here, I suggest going to the American side first and finishing up on the Canadian side which is so much nicer and has lots more to do.

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Germany, two days in Berlin, 2013

In 2013, I took a trip to Germany to meet up with my lovely wife Trudy. We’d been dating long distance for a while and I was really looking forward to meeting up with her in her home country. It was my second trip there but it would be my first time in Berlin. On long flights and especially in the cramped quarters that passes for coach these days, it’s a good idea to wear your compression socks, whether you’re at risk of DVT or not. We started using these a few years ago and never fly without them, we especially love the ones from SBSox (affiliate link) After Trudy picked me up from the airport, we checked in at the Berlin Marriott close to Potsdamer Platz where we relaxed for a few hours. With fresh legs, we head to the city. We tried to see as many sights as possible in the short time we had due to the fact that on the next day, we had a three hour drive ahead of us to Trudy’s hometown of Helmbrechts.

Outside the Berlin Mariott hotel.
Berlin bear outside the Mariott hotel.

After our arrival, we only had half a day so we started exploring the city sights that were close to our hotel.

Brandenburg Gate is quite impressive.
US Embassy.
Outside the US Embassy.
The Hotel Adlon, luxurious five star hotel located just steps away from the Brandenburg Gate.

For lunch, Trudy had the famous Berlin Currywurst and I had the fried Semmelknoedel (bread dumplings) It’s always exciting to try the different cuisines when travelling.

Since our time in the city was limited, the next day we took the hop on, hop off bus from Potsdamer Platz and began our own city tour.
Some sections of the Berlin wall near Potsdamer Platz.
Berlin Cathedral.
Relaxing in Lustgarten Park, great way to spend a summer day.
Der Deutschen Kunst, National Gallery of Art.
Bridge on the river Spree.
Cruising on the Spree river in Berlin.

We visited the Topographie des Terrors which is an indoor outdoor museum that chronicles the atrocities the Nazis inflicted upon the European Jews. The site used to house the headquarters of the Gestapo. There’s a large section of the Berlin wall still standing here.

Memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, a very solemn place for quiet reflection.
Berlin wall.
Many more walls need to be toppled.

After World War II, Germany was divided into four sectors administered by the US, France, UK and the Soviet Union. Checkpoint Charlie in the US sector was a border crossing between East and West Germany for the Allied forces. It’s also the place of the 1961 stand off between American and Russian tanks. We visited the open air exhibition which shows in great detail the history of the area.

US sector, Checkpoint Charlie.

As we walked around the city, I couldn’t help but notice these pink pipes running throughout. I thought it was some kind of cool art installation. I was told that since the ground water level is so high in the city, during construction of new buildings, the basement sites tend to flood and the water has to be pumped to the canals or river by way of those pipes. Apparently, the area on which the city now sits used to be swamp and marsh lands hence the high ground water.

Lots of different ways to get around town. The “hop on, hop off” bus is also a great option if you don’t have a lot of time in the city. We ended up doing a lot of walking anyway which is what we generally do, obviously having great shoes is essential. Paired with the right socks makes for a comfortable day, love those Balegas (affiliate link)

Built mainly for East Germans, these simple, low quality 25 hp two cylinder Trabant cars are now just a novelty. Just imagine having to be on a waiting list for ten years or more to get one of these cars back then. These days, you can do a one and a half hour self drive city tour with guide for about $60.00

There are so many historic buildings and not enough time to see them all.

CDU-Fraktion im Abgeordnetenhaus, (political party, offices of state representatives.
The Reichstag building now houses the Bundestag (German Federal Parliament)
Neue Kirche or new church dates back to the early 1700’s, was Calvinist and Lutheran, later Protestant and now serves as museum of German Parliamentary history.
St Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church)
Rotes Rathaus (town hall) near the Berlin TV tower in Alexander Platz
Plattenbauten, cheap high rise buildings were common in East Germany.
We dined on some great Indian curry before hitting the road.
Leaving Berlin, Brandenburg Gate.

Berlin is such a fun city but you obviously need more than a couple of days. We definitely want to go back and explore more at a not so hurried pace. We say “auf wiedersehen” for now. Check out this video of the drive from Berlin.

Barbados, March 2020

This trip was a coming home for me. I’d been to my wife’s home country of Germany a few times so I was beyond excited to show her around the place I grew up. Lately, our flight days have been pretty long. Our home airport in Austin Texas doesn’t offer a lot of direct international flights so we connected through Miami. On arrival in Barbados, we were temperature checked as we entered the terminal for any sign of fever. This precaution was in response to the Corona virus. We were quite lucky in the timing of our trip because just after returning, all the lock downs started happening in response to the rapidly spreading virus. Getting through this small and quite modern airport was a breeze as they now have a lot of self serve kiosks. Once we cleared Customs and exited the airport, we headed to the taxi dispatch booth. We’ve been to a few countries where the taxi situation seems like a free for all, but here was very well organised. Fares are clearly posted. You can prearrange rides through your hotel but it’s just as easy to get one on your own like we did.

Arrival in Barbados with the trusted Samsonite carry on. They are expandable and fit easily in any overhead bin. We’ve logged quite a few miles with these bags. (“affiliate link”)
Part of the Grantley Adams airport terminal.

We booked our stay at the Rostrevor Hotel in St Lawrence Gap, a lively area with lots of bars and restaurants and nice beaches nearby. It’s considered a budget hotel as hotels go in Barbados (there are some really expensive ones) Whenever possible, we choose hotels that have a kitchenette which is great for preparing some of your own meals and a great cost savings tool. With the abundance of fresh fish, fruits and vegetables available locally, this was a no brainer. There’s a bar and small restaurant in the hotel and the Harlequin restaurant is right next door. Just steps away there is a convenience store and there are supermarkets in the area. We chose this location because of it’s proximity to the airport. A fifteen minute taxi ride to the hotel cost us about $US 15.00, fares are fixed so no need to haggle. The capital Bridgetown is also close, about twenty minutes, the Hastings area which is even closer offers lots of amenities as well.

Harlequin Restaurant.

St Lawrence Gap in Christ Church parish has a vibrant restaurant and bar scene. After a long travel day, we relaxed with drinks at Sharkey’s Bar just across the street from our hotel.

Pina Coladas at Sharkey’s.
Brazilian Steakhouse in the Gap.
Pronto Restaurant .
Pizza & Roti at Pronto Restaurant.

On day two, we took a trip into the historic city of Bridgetown located in St Michael parish. This capital city has a UNESCO world heritage site designation. We traveled by way of the local transportation. If you don’t want to take taxis everywhere, there are plenty of other options. There are three main types of public transportation, the privately owned white vans ZR licence tags, mini buses, yellow with blue stripe and the government run buses, blue with yellow stripe. The government buses run on a schedule and stop only at bus stops, you need exact change $BDS only. The others stop anywhere and are very convenient. Fare is BDS 3.50 but $US welcome. They usually have conductors on board and can make change.

ZR vans pack in as many as possible

Bridgetown is a great walking city. Public transport drops you off in the heart of town. We walked around the marina and boardwalk, bought a few souvenirs then visited the Parliament buildings which houses the third oldest parliament in the Americas, Heroes’ Square with it’s World Wars I & II Memorial Cenotaph, Queen’s Park to see the massive baobab tree, Independence Square, St Michael’s Cathedral which dates back to 1665, the Nidhe Israel Synagogue built in 1664.

Parliament Buildings
Statue of Admiral Nelson in the old Trafalgar Square which predated the one in London. It’s now called Heroes’ Square.
Restaurants, gift shops & charter boat companies are here on the Waterfront.
Bridgetown Marina & Boardwalk
World Wars I & II memorial.
Fountain in Independence Square
St Michael’s Cathedral
Nidhe Israel Synagogue (1654) one of the oldest in the Americas.
Supreme Court of Barbados.

Our walk around Bridgetown took us into Queen’s Park to see the massive Baobab tree then ventured into Swan Street, a bustling pedestrian only area with lots of shops, eateries and street vendors. This is a place popular with locals and tourists alike. Lots of bargains to be had here. A little ways out of town, we checked out the fish market as the fresh catch was just coming in and did a quick stop at the Pelican Arts & Crafts Centre. All of this walking works up a real hunger so we checked in to Chefette Restaurant, the Bajan fast food chain. Lunch for two is no more than BDS $25.00 Offerings include roasted chicken, burgers, rotis (curried beef, chicken or vegetables in a flour wrap).

Baobab tree in Queen’s Park
Swan Street.
Pelican arts & crafts centre conveniently located near the cruise terminal.
Cheapside fish market.
Fresh caught Mahi Mahi or dolphin fish as the locals call it.
Bajan fast food restaurant.

After our day in Bridgetown, we took a stroll along the beach, part of the long stretch that is Carlisle Bay. A walk along the Hastings boardwalk did not disappoint. Finally, we headed back to our hotel for some much needed pool time.

Beach near Needham’s Point.
Ceramic tile mosaic wall on boardwalk.
Boardwalk in Hastings.

To explore more of the island, you can book a tour, arrange for a private driver or just rent a car. We choose the latter. Express Rent A Car was within walking distance of our hotel so we booked through them. We received one free day if we booked four days or more cost was US $80.00 per day, taxes and drivers’ permit included. You drive on the left side here British style but after a few days you get used to it. We hit the road and our first stop was the Historic Garrison Savannah area. There you’ll find the Barbados Museum, George Washington House, (Barbados was the only country the first US president ever visited) The old barracks and clock tower, several cannons and tunnels and of course the horse racing track. We stayed for the ceremonial changing of the sentry which is done every Thursday at noon. It was nice to see the old veterans still carrying on the tradition.

Garrison Clock Tower.
Changing of the sentry ceremony.
The Drum Corps
Barbados has the rarest collection of 17th century English iron cannon.
Barbados Museum.
Museum courtyard with the old Garrison barracks.
George Washington House

We returned to the Garrison on Saturday for horse racing with the featured annual Gold Cup high stakes event for thoroughbreds. This is such a big and exciting event, seems like half of the island’s population was there. It’s like one huge tail gating party, there’s no entrance fee to the grounds so you just pull up in your vehicle, find a spot, set up your little picnic or whatever and enjoy. You could sit in the stands for $BDS 50, regular race day is about $10. There are video clips of some of the action including the parade We opted to take the bus there as the traffic leaving was going to be a nightmare and it was. We ended up walking the three miles back to our hotel with a stop at Mama Mia’s where they serve some of the island’s best authentic brick oven pizza. There are video clips of some of the action for you to check out below.

Sandy Lane Gold Cup race.
Trudy at the races. They’ve been racing here since 1845.
Pizza restaurant in Hastings Christ Church parish.
Mama Mia’s pizza baked in authentic brick oven.

After a good night’s sleep, we hopped in the car and headed down the West Coast for a stop in Speightstown, the second largest town and my old hometown. A stop at the old Fisherman’s Pub is a must. Established in 1936 to cater to fishermen after a long day at sea, this restaurant offers buffet lunch and has a wide variety of authentic Bajan dishes. Lunch for two was under US $30.00. After lunch, PRC Bakery was worth a visit to get some coconut turnovers and sweet bread. After walking the town we ended up on Heywoods Beach for a well earned dip in the surf.

Speightstown from across Queen Street bay.
Fishermans’ Pub Speightstown, St Peter parish was established in 1936.
Fisherman’s Pub on the main drag, Queen Street.
Old style fishing boat.
Small bakery in town, we couldn’t resist the coconut turnovers.
Fruit & vegetable vendor.
Fish market & Esplanade, Queen Street.
Speightstown Esplanade is a meeting place where locals gather to discuss the events of the day.
Walkway behind the Esplanade.
St Peter’s Parish church, originally a wooden structure built in 1629, replaced in 1665, ravaged by hurricane in 1831, rebuilt and consecrated in 1837, then damaged by fire in 1980.
Republic Bank and Arlington Museum.
Speightstown mural.
Queen Street.
This area of Heywoods beach is a sea turtle nesting site.
Port St.Charles Marina.
Heywoods Beach.

Another beautiful, sunny day. Time to head into the country to check out the Grenade Hall old growth forest with its caves, soaring palms, mahogany and cottonwood trees to name a few. We climbed the old restored signal station which offers spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. This is all part of a wildlife Reserve and one fee (US $15.00 covers both areas. There are troops of monkeys roaming about and you can hand feed them if you like. There’s also a general feeding by staff at 10:00 and 2:00 pm. We came mainly to see the monkeys but there are other animals including parrots, peacocks, deer, mara, iguanas and hundreds of tortoises.

Barbados Green monkey.
Grenade Hall signal station.
Peacock in Wildlife Reserve.
Iguana & turtles.

After leaving the wild life reserve, our drive through the country continued with a stop at the Cherry Tree Hill overlook. Here we got a sense of the rugged beauty of the East Coast. We spent about twenty minutes here then continued along a narrow winding road through sugar cane fields past the Morgan Lewis farm. Here you’ll find the only still intact sugar mill on the island. A quick picture and we’re on our way.

Grove of mahogany trees on the way to Cherry Tree Hill lookout.
Cherry Tree Hill overlooking the Scotland District.
Country road.
Morgan Lewis, last of the sugar mills still with all is internal machinery, now just a tourist attraction.

Our drive continued along the beautiful and rugged East Coast. I always loved coming here as a kid, the terrain and the surf were so much more interesting. There are fewer hotels and restaurants here but just enough to satisfy. The pounding surf makes it a popular spot for surfers. The beaches are not crowded and you can swim here but keep to the tide pools for safety. We stopped at a few nice overlook spots to take it all in.

Bathsheba overlook in St Joseph parish.
Rock formations along the Bathsheba coast.

Our next stop was Andromeda Gardens. This is the original botanic garden of Barbados. Started out as a private garden but opened to the public in the 70’s While not considered a flower garden, it still has a wide variety of flowers, shrubs, trees and more types of palms than I was aware of. Entrance fee is US $15.00 and tours are self guided. There are places to sit and relax in this six acre wonder so we took our time checking out the various species of flowers and trees.

Truly magnificent trees.
Jack fruit, the world’s largest fruit can weigh upwards of 80 pounds. Needless to say, you should take care when you walk under a tree.
Bearded fig trees.

As our journey continued, we stopped in at the historic Codrington College which dates back to the 1700’s. It’s now an Anglican seminary with University of the West Indies affiliation. We walked the grounds and just marveled at this great Barbadian treasure.

Cabbage palms line the entrance to Codrington College.
Codrington College, St John parish.
Detail of the arches.
The great lawn.

As we continued our trip around the island, we ended up at the easternmost point and the iconic Ragged Point lighthouse built in 1875. Not your typical tourist spot, a bit off the beaten path, but hiking along those majestic cliffs was something special.

Ragged Point, St Philip parish.
East Point (Ragged Point) lighthouse.

Our last full day begins with a trip to the Earthworks Pottery in St Thomas parish. We always wanted to learn more about the process of creating beautiful pieces from start to finish. We walked around the studio, talked to workers who gave some insight into what they were doing and also gave demonstrations. The pieces here are unbelievably beautiful. We ended up purchasing a very nice plate. They can ship larger items if you desire.

Earthworks Pottery in St Thomas parish.

After a truly amazing and educational experience at Earthworks, our next attraction for the day was the Animal Flower Cave at the northern end of the island. This naturally formed sea cave is one of the island’s oldest attractions and we were excited to experience it. A quick stop in Speightstown to pick up some coconut turnovers at our favorite little bakery and some fruits from a street vendor for snacking later. Driving through the northern parishes is a bit more relaxed as they are not as heavily populated. On arriving at North Point, we found the scenery at to be very interesting with steep cliffs, blow holes and caves. You can hike along the cliffs or just sit on the various benches that are available. A few minutes before we arrived, a pod of migrating whales had just gone by and we missed it. We came for the cave and to access it you have to make your way down some very steep and narrow steps that were hand carved about a hundred years ago. There are guided tours. It’s relatively large inside and there are some windows to the sea. There’s a pool where you can swim but we opted not to.

North Point, St Lucy parish.
Cliff Dining, North Point.
Window to the sea.
Some video from inside the cave.
One of the pools.
Some of the sea anemones or animal flowers. They close up and retract when touched.

There are eleven parishes on my little island and we touched ten of them. There’s so much to see and do here, we barely scratched the surface. Getting around was easy, I guess a little local knowledge helps. We will definitely be back and you should put this destination on your list. This is by no means the cheapest island out there but with some research you can find the right deal to fit your budget. Come for the sea and sand, the history, the traditions but by all means, come!!!

East Coast beach.
Beautiful sunset from our last evening.

Curacao Dreams December 2019

Curacao here we come.

Visit Curacao, you won’t be disappointed. This small island has a lot to offer. Besides the usual offerings like sand & surf, there’s great shopping, dining both local and international, museums, art galleries, Great houses or Landhuizen as the old plantation houses are called, off shore adventures and so much more. Getting around is so easy, Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamentu the local dialect are all spoken freely. From what we’ve seen and experienced, the country seems very safe, police and private security were ever present and we felt very comfortable venturing out on the town even in the evenings.

The best time to visit, economically speaking is off peak season, May to November. Hotel rates and airfares are much cheaper but really, any time of the year is fine since there’s hardly a threat of hurricanes, average temperatures are in the mid 80’s F (30 C) and rainfall is minimal.

We spent a week at the newly renovated Marriott Beach Resort, but while everything was shiny and new, you could see they were still working some of the kinks out. The hotel wasn’t very full as it had only been open for a few days. We asked for and got upgraded to an ocean front room. Overall though, it was a pleasant experience.

Room with a view.

On our second day there, we decided to take the 2.5 mile (4 km) walk into Willemstad. If you’d rather not walk, you could take a local bus (Autobus Bedrijf) fare is 2.00 Guilder approx US $1.15 There is a bus station in Otrobanda and also Punda. Taxis (licence plate TX) are another option to get around. Taxis are unmetered and work off a rate sheet based on four persons. Rates can change depending on the amount of luggage you have or if you need service after 11:00 pm. Discuss fare before hand. There are no Ubers here. You can also rent a car, a compact is all you need, all the major rental companies are represented here or you can just hire a driver for the day.

Willemstad has four distinct quarters. Otrobanda is on the west side, cross the Queen Emma bridge to Punda and further east is Pietermaai, to the north across the Queen Wilhelmina or L.B. Smith bridges is Sharloo.

We checked out Rif Fort (built in 1828) now a trendy spot that houses retail shops and restaurants, a beautiful setting where you can see cruise ships in port and next door the Renaissance Hotel Casino and shopping mall.

Rif Fort with nearby cruise terminal & Renassaince Hotel & Mall

We grabbed a quick lunch at the Gondola Italian restaurant, their pasta and pizza are the best.

Gondola Restaurant Pizza & Pasta.

After lunch, we headed over the Queen Emma pontoon bridge, stopping occasionally for photos. This bridge opens periodically to allow ships and other water craft to travel in and out of the inner harbor. We happened to catch a few openings later in the day.

Watch video here.

Queen Emma pontoon bridge
Handelskade (on the waterfront)

We marveled at the beauty and color of the buildings along the Handelskade, great photo op here.

Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge

On the north side of Punda, we paid a visit to the Central Market which has a wide array of goods, fruits, vegetables, clothing shops, souvenirs and the like. Next door is the Old Market (Plasa Bieu) which is now a food court specializing in local cuisine. I really wanted to try the iguana soup but thought better of it, maybe next time.

Central Market.
Inside Plasa Bieu.

We enjoyed some ice cream at the Iguana Cafe which offers al fresco dining on the waterfront. It was a welcome treat after a day of exploring the city’s side streets, shops, art galleries and eateries.

Iguana Cafe on the waterfront.

Some scenes from our self guided city tour.

Art District.
The term”Dushi” is Papiamento and is used as a term of endearment. Depending on the context, it can mean love, sexy, sweetheart, nice, pleasant or tasty.
Lots of outside dining.

As part of our city exploration, we strolled through the historic Pietermaai district, checking out the fully restored 200 plus year old houses that’s now home to boutique hotels, bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Very vibrant night scene here for which we returned in the evening to dine at Ginger’s and drinks later at Cafe Mundo Bizarro enjoying some salsa music.

Restored houses in historic Pietermaai district.
Cafe Mundo Bizarro

Salsa music video here.

Ginger’s is a Cozy Restaurant serving Carib, Asian, Indian fusion cuisine.
Tandoori beef & chicken sate.

So many dining options along the waterfront. We stopped for lunch at the Grillking Steak house. Local, family friendly and reasonably priced eats.

We came across this local gem on our walk into town.
Waterfort Arches restaurants & bars nestled amongst the walls that protected the canal, built in 1828

We took some time out to visit Kura Hulanda Museum ($10.00 admission) to learn about the slave trade in the Caribbean and the Americas. Great collection of artifacts on display. If this experience doesn’t move you, you simply cannot be moved.

Museum chronicling the slave trade in the Caribbean and the Americas
Replica of a slave ship hold.
Monument to the abolition of slavery.

The oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere dating back to 1651, Mikve Israel-Emanuel can be found in Punda. The interior has a sand floor symbolizing the desert through which the Israelites made their journey to freedom. To book a tour, email info@snoa.com

Oldest synagogue in the western hemisphere, has a sand floor to simulate the desert

We were there during the Holiday season so everything was festive and bright. The town really comes alive in the evening, the lights, music, it seems on every corner, food vendors, outdoor cafes packed, everyone having a great time.

It’s time to get out of the city for a bit so we rented a car and set out to explore. We rented from Hertz (available at the hotel) for one day US$49.95 base price for an economy compact. Driving is easy here ( you drive on the right side) Once out of the city, traffic is very light. We wanted to experience a bit of the rugged north shore with it’s desert like landscape and also the beaches.

Out of Willemstad on the main highway Weg Naar Westpunt, we turned onto Weg Naar St Willibrordus. About two miles down the road, just pull over to see flocks of flamingos, best viewing time is early to mid morning, this is a free attraction.

We stopped in to the Landhuis Jan Kok, one of the many slave plantation houses on the island. It now showcases the work of late local artist Nena Sanchez. There’s also a gallery in the Willemstad art district.

Landhuis Jan Kok.

Heading back on Weg Naar Westpunt we made a quick stop in Barber at the Hofi Pastor nature area to check out the very impressive 800 yr old Kapoc tree with it’s massive roots and gnarly limbs. There are a few short hiking trails here. The $3.00 entrance fee is more of a donation than anything else, few amenities here but it’s all about the tree.

800 yr old Kapoc tree.

On the road to Shete Boka National park, the wild north side with it’s caves, blowholes and inlet. It feels worlds apart from Willemstad, there’s a peacefulness about the area. We paid US $10.00 entrance fee plus $2.00 for a map. You could explore either on foot or venture farther out by car, we chose the latter. To some the entrance fee might seem like a lot but the money helps to provide security in the more remote regions of the park. Security is taken seriously here so there was no sense of uneasiness as we went a bit off the beaten path. We entered one of the sea caves where I shot this video. A bit eerie and cool at the same time. Check it out.

Park entrance, $10.00 entrance fee $2.00 for map. Security presence in more remote parking areas.
Desert like landscape on the north side.
Natural Bridge.
One of the many blowholes. Check out the short video below.

There are no seven mile beaches here. Most, especially on the north west side can be described as inlets carved out of cliffs but they are a good size nonetheless. We visited Playa Porto Mari where wild but friendly pigs are known to roam about. It’s a beautiful white sand beach a bit off the beaten path, popular with tourists and locals. There are some amenities, snack bar and restaurant, toilets, changing rooms and chair rentals. Great for snorkeling and diving. Dive shop on site.

Playa Porto Mari where wild pigs visit the beach occasionally, we did see one as we were leaving.

Our anniversary dinner at Namora’s Restaurant. Located within walking distance of the Marriott, it’s fine dining at it’s best. All the courses were prepared and presently exquisitely. Dinner for two is easily US $200.00 plus but it’s not somewhere you go very often. Something to bear in mind, most nicer restaurants add a service charge anywhere from 10 to 20% some of which goes in a tip pool for your servers so beware of that when you tip. It’s not allowed to be taken off your credit card so it’s added directly to your bill.

Time to say goodbye. We really enjoyed our time here and recommend you add this destination to your list. Danki Curacao, te aworo.

Bora Bora, French Polynesia, 2018

When we got married, we made a promise that for our fifth anniversary, not only were we going to Bora Bora, but we would stay in an over water bungalow. Promise kept!!! From our home base in Texas, getting to the South Pacific made for a long travel day but we were very excited, we’re finally doing it. We checked in at Austin Bergstrom airport for our 6:30 pm American Airlines flight to LAX. Not the smoothest of check ins. We were asked to check our bags through to Tahiti which we didn’t want, full flight we were told. As it turned out, there was plenty of overhead bin space. Needless to say, we weren’t happy. The thought of not having your bags with you can be a bit unsettling especially when connections are involved.

View from our plane at LAX.

On arrival at LAX, we had to make our way to Terminal B. It was quite a long walk to get there but we had a three hour layover. The second leg of the flight was at 11:00 pm. The boarding process was a bit weird. We were called by sections, then boarded buses that took us to the aircraft. Upon exiting the buses, there was no order in boarding the plane so the whole system of calling sections for the bus made no sense. The eight and a half hour flight itself was great. Air Tahiti Nui Boeing 787 Dreamliner is by far the most comfortable plane I’ve traveled on. The food and service were great as well.

Aboard the Air Tahiti Nui Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Welcome to Papeete, Tahiti.

At around 5:30 am the following day, we arrived at the Tahiti Faa’a airport, collected our bags (thankfully they made it) and checked in for a quick fifty minute flight to Bora Bora aboard a smaller turbo prop plane. The main island is surrounded by a ring of smaller islands called motus and the airport is situated on one of these islands.

Watch some video of the fifty minute flight from Tahiti to Bora Bora.
Arrival at Bora Bora airport.

Since most of the resorts are located on the small islands, they all have their own free shuttle service. After meeting our hotel representative and being adorned with the traditional lei necklaces, we boarded a boat for the ten minute ride to the resort. We stayed at the Pearl Beach Resort which is the only hotel on the very private Motu Tevairoa. Video of the boat ride can be seen below.

Arrival at boat dock from airport.
Finally here at Pearl Beach Resort.

We arrived quite early, 8:30 am, and understandably our bungalow wasn’t ready. Since breakfast was still being served, we made our way over to Tevairoa restaurant, one of three restaurants at the resort. The staff was very friendly and welcoming. French, Tahitian and English is spoken here. After breakfast, we walked around a bit then relaxed in the lobby with some welcome drinks while our room was being prepared.

Lobby & reception area.
Welcome drink.
I think we’re going to like this place.
Bougainvillea flowers.

Our bungalow is finally ready. It’s been such a long day, we just wanted to get settled, get off our feet and and marvel at the beautiful surroundings, the mountains and of course the crystal blue green water. We got a welcome visit from a stingray who came by to see us everyday during our stay. As night fell, we were treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.

Look HERE, we’re checking out our bungalow, number 40.

Our young stingray came for a visit every morning
Beautiful sunset from our bungalow.
I’ve never seen a more beautiful sunset.

After falling asleep to the sound of the water gently lapping against the pylons of our bungalow, we arose just in time to catch the sun rise behind Mt Otemanu. The beginning of a great day in paradise. Tevairoa restaurant is where breakfast is served every day so that was our first stop. We will spend this day rather leisurely, just checking out the amenities. We toured the spa and the well equipped fitness center. There’s also a game room, tennis court, mini golf and a dive center for all your water sports activities. We tried our hand at paddle boarding but weren’t very good at it.

Morning has broken, sunrise over Mt Otemanu.
Pool area with Miki Miki restaurant & Bar
Concierge and event planning.
Garden bungalows.
Taurearea sushi restaurant.

We’re liking what we’re seeing so far. I can’t believe we’re really here. It’s always been a dream of mine to travel to the South Pacific and here I am with my lovely wife Trudy. After getting the lay of the land, we went back to the bungalow to prepare for our first swim in the lagoon. What a magical moment. The water is only about three feet deep, crystal clear, warm and soothing.

After several hours, we managed to drag ourselves out of the water and prepare ourselves for dinner at the Tevairoa restaurant. The tranquility of this setting coupled with the gentle, balmy breezes made for a very pleasant evening. The food, the wine and the service were superb. Trudy had a perfectly cooked rib eye steak and I opted for the freshly caught wahoo, pan seared and served with a chorizo tomato cream sauce. Breakfast is the only complimentary meal and a basic dinner cost about 10,000 Polynesian francs, roughly 90 US dollars. We’ll sleep well tonight for tomorrow, we head into town.

Dinner at Tevairoa restaurant.

For the trip to Vaitape on the mainland, we scheduled the 9:00 am shuttle. The resort offers this free boat service across the bay, then you take a fifteen minute bus ride from the dock to town, US 16.00 round trip. For return trips to the resort, you should be at the dock by 12:30 or 5:00 pm. Since we had arranged for a rental car through the concierge, we met the rental agent at the dock upon disembarking and she drove us into town. All the cars at this particular rental company (Avis) were manual transmission so this is one thing you need to be aware of when you choose a rental company. For me it wasn’t a problem. We opted for a full day rental but should have done a half day instead. Driving is on the right side and the roads were pretty good, somewhat narrow but there are lots of small cars here. Once out of town, traffic is minimal. It takes about an hour to drive around the island (eighteen miles) so unless you’re checking out restaurants, bar hopping or lounging the beaches, it doesn’t make much sense to do a full day rate. Bikes can be rented for about US $ 20.00 per day. The terrain is fairly flat, only one small hill I can recall. Motor scooters are also available for rent.

Rental with standard shift transmission. Check before you rent and opt for the half day rental.
These little two seaters are also available for rent.

After our drive around the island, we walked around Vaitape, checking out the souvenir shops, craft stores, fruit and vegetable stands, the waterfront area with cruise ships anchored in the bay and some jewelry stores. Here you can find the exquisite black Tahitian pearls. If you’re buying pearls, go with a reputable jeweler as there is some fake merchandise out there.

The main street in the heart of town.
Private yacht.
Windstar Spirit cruise ship.
A banana tree is cut down after the bunch is harvested but the tree has already been producing a number of shoots that will turn into mature trees and the cycle continues.

Lunch time is approaching so we check in at the Aloe Cafe, a quaint little bistro tucked away in the corner of small shopping plaza. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a light lunch and some very good ice cream and sorbet. There were some food trucks around as well where you could get hot dogs, crepes and sandwiches. We met a nice older couple who were in Bora Bora for the day. They were on a South Pacific islands cruise on the Windstar Spirit.

Bora Bora can be a very expensive place so before heading back to the resort, we bought some fruit from one of the roadside stands, then stopped in at Chin Lee’s grocery store (where everyone goes) to pick up some snacks and other light foodstuff. There were fresh baguettes and a great selection of cheeses and wines, obviously the French connection has something to do with that. It’s interesting to see all the resort guests on the boat trip back with their shopping bags filled with groceries and other food. Paradise does come at a cost. That evening, we relaxed in our bungalow while enjoying a light supper and discussing the plans for the next day.

Chin Lee grocery store where locals & tourists shop, it has everything you need.

Another day, another beautiful sunrise. There hasn’t been a drop of rain so far and we’re loving it. We begin our day with a one hour workout at the gym. This was by far one of the nicer gyms we’ve seen in our travels. We opted for an easy, laid back day today so after hitting the breakfast buffet, we went swimming and kayaking around the lagoon. You can do as much or as little as you want around here, there are plenty of tours to go on if you need some adventures or you can just stay around the resort and chill out. Evening falls quickly here since it’s close to the equator. Tonight we’ll have drinks at the Miki Miki bar and enjoy some traditional Polynesian music.

Well equipped gym.
On any beach or water vacation, we always worry about losing phones in the water. Fortunately, Trudy found this great waterproof iPhone cell case with a floating hand grip and underwater camera app, problem solved. We don’t worry about our phones when we’re out on the water since we got the Proshot (“affiliate link”)
Jamming at the Miki Miki pool bar.
Moonlight over Pearl Beach.

It’s Sunday morning I think, but who’s keeping track of days anyway. This day promises to be an exciting one. Trudy booked herself a spa day, the Otemanu treatment special complete with a coconut sugar scrub, bath and massage, facial, hair and scalp conditioner, jacuzzi, the works. Meanwhile, I went swimming with sharks and stingrays. It was a very enjoyable sail around the island, stopping off at some prime snorkeling spots and swimming in the crystal clear waters. There are a variety of tours that you can book directly through the hotel.

The Spa in a garden like setting.
Getting ready for the shark encounter excursion.

Sailing around the island. See some of it here.

View snorkel video here.

Check out shark and stingray videos here and here.

Shark videos shot with GoProHero4 (“affiliate link”)

Monday night is Polynesian buffet and show at the main restaurant, Tevairoa. The two other restaurants are closed this evening but the pool bar is open and offers a light menu if you’re not inclined to spend the CFP 8500 (approx US $75.00 per person) Of course we’re going. We travel for experiences so we’re all in. There were a lot of great selections offered on the buffet, several varieties of marinated fish, salads, meats and vegetables, fresh fruit juices. The use of local ingredients like coconut, pineapple and papaya were incorporated into the French inspired pastries. Midway through dinner, the show begins. It’s your typical Polynesian show with the dancing young women being the main attraction. We’ve probably all seen these scenes from the South Pacific in the movies before, but to see it live in this setting is something special. There was guest interaction and photo sessions afterwards.

Polynesian dance video

The day after a fabulous evening, we took one more trip into town for some last minute shopping, then spent the remainder of our time enjoying our bungalow and snorkeling the small artificial reefs around the the lagoon. We see the occasional cruise ships passing by, mostly smaller ones like the Aida and Paul Gauguin.

Unlike myself, Trudy doesn’t care much for open water, she likes to stay close to the shore. I got her this full face snorkel mask a few months before for her birthday and this was the first time she got a chance to use it. I researched many brands and settled on this one from Aria (“affiliate link”) You can see the video of her snorkel outing here.

It’s been a wonderful ten days in what really felt like paradise, a dream come true for both of us. This wasn’t one of our usual active, adventurous vacations but sometimes you need to slow it down and relax a bit. We can look back on this trip with great fondness. It was a once in a lifetime kind of trip but we definitely want to return.